Federal Lemon Law

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Using Your State’s Lemon-Law

The theme of state lemon laws is that
a manufacturer must provide a refund or replacement for a defective new
vehicle that is not repaired within a reasonable number of attempts. Most
such laws provide for refund or replacement when a substantial defect
cannot be fixed in 4 tries, a safety defect within 2 tries or the auto
is out of service for 30 days, within the first 12-18,000 miles/12-24
months. (Check the attached summary chart for
the terms of your state’s lemon law. Where a state has a Website with
detailed information on its Lemon Law, we have provided a direct link
to that Website for your use and convenience.) Minor defects such as bad
ashtrays would not qualify as substantial but transmission and electrical
defects would. A car is out of service while being repaired or waiting
for parts.

Beyond state lemon laws, a consumer has
the right to a refund or replacement of a lemon vehicle under the Uniform
Commercial Code (UCC). The main difference is the UCC law does not define
a lemon so it’s up to a court to decide if an auto company must give you
a refund or or a new car. The federal Magnuson-Moss
Warranty Act
provides for the award of attorney fees from the manufacturer
if you have to sue to return a lemon under the UCC. Many state lemon laws
also provide for attorney fees.

More information on how to make auto
companies take back lemons is found in our LEMON
BOOK. This 368-page action manual can help you: (1) find out your
rights, (2) get results from manufacturers, (3) use consumer groups and
government agencies, (4) find a good lawyer, (5) use small claims court,
and (6) avoid buying a lemon. The LEMON BOOK by Ralph Nader is available
from CAS for $17.95. Make checks payable to the Center for Auto Safety.

Working to advance consumer rights and
provide helpful information are some of CAS’ important consumer programs.
In addition to our successful campaign to get lemon laws in every state,
our better known accomplishments include recall of 15 million Firestone
500 tires and 1.3 million Ford Pintos for exploding gas tanks, getting
airbags in new cars and publication of the new CAR
BOOK every year. Our big new campaign is to get secret warranty disclosure
laws passed in every state just like we did with lemon laws.

As a small non-profit consumer group
fighting the giant auto companies, CAS depends on donations
to support our consumer work. The car companies spend more for one TV
commercial than CAS has to spend in a year helping consumers. By contributing
$20 or more, you will be promoting better cars and consumer rights. Our
success depends on your tax-deductible contribution. If you contribute
$30 or more, we will send you the LEMON BOOK. Every home should have this
invaluable consumer manual.


Success in using state lemon laws depends
upon three things: keeping good records, providing the right notice and
using an arbitration program where required.

Repair Record Keep close track of the number of repair attempts and
the time the car is out of service. Submit a written, dated list
of problems to the dealer each time the car is in for repairs (keep a
copy). List the symptoms your car has; for example, "stalling"
instead of "check carburetor." This establishes a record of
what problem was addressed even though the dealer may work on different
parts in attempting to fix the problem. Insist on getting a copy of the
repair order that lists the symptoms described, repairs done, any parts
replaced, and the time the car was in the repair shop.

Notice Required You must follow your state’s notice requirement before
you are entitled to a refund or replacement. Where written notice to the
manufacturer is required, send a certified, return receipt letter stating
your vehicle’s need for repair to the manufacturer’s consumer relations
office and to the nearest zone/regional office listed in your owner’s
manual or warranty booklet. Make sure you send this notice by the time
you take the car in for the repair attempt that qualifies it as a lemon.
Give the dealer a copy of this letter when you deliver the car for repair;
keep a copy.

Your Refund Or Replacement After you believe your vehicle qualifies as a lemon
and you have followed the above steps, ask the manufacturer for a refund
or replacement. You may have to pay a small offset for use of the car
but no more than for the mileage up until the first repair attempt
which qualified you for the lemon law. If the manufacturer has a valid
arbitration program that is incorporated into your written warranty, you
may be required to go through arbitration to get your refund or replacement.
Arbitration requirements and offsets vary widely from state to state;
ask the Consumer Protection Division of your state attorney general’s
office for details. If the manufacturer does not provide the required
refund or replacement, consider legal action on your claim. (For more
arbitration tips, see Chapter 8 of The
Lemon Book
.) Several states offer their own arbitration programs
for lemon law complaints which generally give much better results than
the manufacturers’ programs.

Arbitration If you arbitrate, ask for a copy of the program’s procedures
and make sure they are followed. The manufacturer may make a settlement
offer prior to any arbitration meeting. Consider what is offered but do
not be pressured into an unfair settlement. If a manufacturer’s program
has not given you a decision within 40 days of your original contact (if
you didn’t first contact the manufacturer, 47 days), you are not required
to continue in it.

The key to arbitration is thorough preparation
to show that basic fairness and the lemon law entitle you to a refund
or replacement. If you have good records, your lemon should speak for
itself. In nonbinding programs, you have the right to reject an unsatisfactory
decision and assert your lemon law rights with an attorney. If you accept
the decision you are bound only for the problems arbitrated. If new problems
arise or the manufacturer does not follow through with the arbitration
decision, you still have your lemon law rights. Use the CAS lemon lawyer
referral to find a Lemon Lawyers in your state.